Thai scientist gets 'royal' treatment from local loyal Thai community

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Thai researcher honored at a conference in a downtown hotel Tuesday for her work in public health drew both the applause of her scientific colleagues -- and a royal welcoming party of local Thai-Americans.

Inside the banquet hall of the Hilton Anchorage Hotel ''Professor Dr. Her Royal Highness'' Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol was presented with the Environmental Mutagen Society's EMS-Hollaender International Fellow Award. Mahidol holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and does research involving cancer, air pollution and malaria.

The presentation and her acceptance speech drew the kind of attention and polite applause that usually comes at such events.

But as she left the ballroom, Princess Chulabhorn found a hushed reception line of nearly 30 local Thais who threw themselves to their knees as she passed. Some slipped her flowers, wrapped presents or envelopes with money. The Anchorage residents, alerted to her visit by a Thai ambassador, had waited in the hotel hallway for hours for the honor.

''This is the first time I've seen her, so I'm excited,'' said Lek Malika Modgasem, a 21-year resident of Anchorage. Though she hadn't been familiar with the Thai royal family before, said Modgasem, the meeting's significance was not lost on her. ''I'm really overwhelmed today,'' she said.

The princess' attendants, men and women dressed in dark business suits, trailed behind Her Royal Highness, taking the flowers and gifts from the Princess to hold for her.

Older Thai-Americans and more recent immigrants revere the royal family, said Thai-born Patty Greathouse, who joined relatives, including her 90-year-old grandmother, for the excursion. ''This is really important to them,'' said Greathouse, 25. ''Back home in Thailand, they have pictures of the royal family in every house and at the store.''

Her grandmother Jumbal Supasorn, a diminutive Buddhist nun who wore white robes and an ever-present smile, was the oldest member of the welcoming party.

''In Thailand we're really respectful of the king and queen and family,'' said Supasorn through daughter Chuanpis Supasorn, who interpreted. ''They're like a god to us. We love them and very respect them. Back home maybe some people all their lives never see them in person.

''It's very fortunate that we're able to see her in person.''

Supasorn handed Princess Chulabhorn an envelope she said contained donations for the Princess' work and for the Thai people.

The Anchorage community has two Thai temples and a community of about 300 Thais, said Modgasem.

Princess Chulabhorn, 44, the youngest child of Thai monarchs King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit, studies toxicology at University of Tokyo Medical School. She is best known in the scientific community for founding Thailand's Chulabhorn Research Institute.

Society president David DeMarini presented the Princess Tuesday with the EMS-Hollaender Award in recognition of her activities ''promoting science, education and public health initiatives in Thailand and elsewhere in the world.''

In her acceptance speech, Princess Chulabhorn said her goal was ''to create a safer, healthier environment for the future generations.'' A member of the Princess' security contingent declined to allow a post-conference interview.

The Environmental Mutagen Society is a scientific organization dedicated to researching the adverse health effects of the environment. This year's conference drew 450 participants from around the world, organizers said.

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